I think I put down the American novel The Help for the final time on National Sorry Day.
As an Australian whitefella, I don’t have any business pointing the finger at anyone else for their racial mistakes.
Still, it’s pretty hard to stomach these things still went on in the 1960s.
The Stolen Generation was still happening in Australia and in Jackson, Mississippi, “coloured” children couldn’t read the same book as white children.
In 2009, Kathryn Stockett’s book The Help was released and became a bestseller, read widely but somehow missed by myself and probably you, if you are reading this.
The book is remarkable. Lots of people seize an injustice and turn it into a readable book.
This one goes further. It creates the time, the place, the sadness, the joys and the comedy as something real for people who are a world away in distance, time and attitudes.
“Skeeter” comes home from college to find the maid who raised her has gone.
Her friends have become the desperate housewives of the ‘60s, completely obsessed with their clothes, their houses, their social lives.
Each has a maid not much elevated from the days of their grandparents, some of whom were slaves.
The “coloured” maid raises the children, cleans the house, cooks the food - but cannot use the same toilet or accidentally brush the hand of her employer.
Skeeter’s friend Hilly is the head desperate housewife, leading a pack of groomed, silly women who underpay and mistreat their maids.
Skeeter starts to see the light. She plans to write a book telling the story of the maids.
The book is remarkable. Lots of people seize an injustice and turn it into a readable book. This one goes further. It creates the time, the place, the sadness, the joys and the comedy as something real for people who are a world away in distance, time and attitudes.
In an age where racial harmony is illegal, the maids are reluctant. But she wins the trust of Aibileen and finally the very funny Minny.
The Help is a great book - it’s just genuine. It’s written in a simple, honest way that leaves out the “poor me” and lets the story sing for itself.
It was so good, I went out and found the movie, released in 2011. By that time, the book had sold seven million copies.
There are some great things about seeing a movie straight after reading the book.
I was keen to see what the characters looked like and how they had treated the famous bit with the chocolate pie.
The film remained true to the book - amazing in a time when many films seem to get carried away with themselves and forget that people liked the book for a reason.
There were a few departures - I had never pictured Constantine as being 603 years old and Miss Celia seemed to have a few more brain cells - but the tone, the time, nearly all of the details, were brought to vivid life.
For me, the performance of Octavia Spencer as Minny was magic. She was funny and - I can’t think of any other word for it - sassy.
The verdict - great movie, even better book.
But between this and American Pie, I’ll be saying no thank you ma’am to any kind of pie for some time yet.